Never-before-seen interviews, performance footage and personal artefacts will be revealed in Museum of Brisbane exclusive: Mao's Last Dancer the exhibition: A portrait of Li Cunxin opening this summer.
The exhibition will explore Li’s inspirational story from his poverty-stricken childhood in China, the chance of fate that took him to Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy, his dramatic defection to the United States and international fame.
Museum of Brisbane Chairman Sallyanne Atkinson (AO) said Li Cunxin had made a unique difference to Brisbane’s arts and cultural scene since becoming artistic director of Queensland Ballet.
“I am delighted that Brisbane will present the world-first exhibition into the life of Mao’s Last Dancer and pay tribute to his influence as an artist, arts advocate, community leader and mentor,” Mrs Atkinson said.
Museum of Brisbane Director Renai Grace said the exhibition will bring a fresh perspective to Li’s tale by sharing the stories of those who have supported, danced alongside and loved him.
“Our team has been working closely with Li to reach out to his friends, family and colleagues across the world to lend their voices to Li’s story and the response has been incredible. We are getting a fascinating insight into how pivotal Li has been to the lives of others,” Ms Grace said.
Li said the exhibition turned the spotlight on the many people who had helped him achieve and forge a new life outside communist China.
“Many extraordinary people in China, the United States and Australia made my story possible. I continue to be inspired by their generosity and friendship and am delighted that this exhibition introduces them to Australian audiences,” he said.
“I have enjoyed contacting old friends and searching through my own keepsakes and files to find the artefacts and papers that will make Mao’s Last Dancer the exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin a unique experience.”
Ms Grace said Museum of Brisbane exhibitions bring together social history and artworks, making the City Hall space the perfect home for an exhibition of Li’s life.
“After exploring his early childhood in rural China, this exhibition also celebrates his career as a dancer,” she said.
“From its beginnings in Beijing to his appointment as a Principal Artist with the prestigious Houston and Australian ballet companies, his career is traced through film, photographs, costumes, awards and media, as well personal items that reveal his journey and its emotional and political ramifications, against the background of the social changes that have taken place in his lifetime.”
The exhibition runs at City Hall from December 1, 2017 to April 29, 2018.
Editor’s note: Li is also appearing in a special one-off performance in the Qld Ballet’s 'Nutcracker' December season in the role of Drosselmeyer, alongside his wife, Mary Li. The last time Li and Mary performed on the stage together was in 1991 at Houston Ballet in Ben Stevenson's 'The Nutcracker'. The performance has sold out well in advance.